When I think of the word “Ecuador,” it means so much more to me now than the name of a small Latin American country.
To some, perhaps, it means the majestic folds of the Andes mountains, or the exotic Amazon rainforest, or the exquisite beauty of the Galapagos islands. A good place to vacation.
To others, it’s a distant country, and they’re not exactly sure if it’s in Central America or South America. (If that’s you, my friend, it’s in South America, just so you no longer live in ignorance of that particular fact.)
To churchgoers, perhaps, it means mission trips and donations and saying prayers.
To still others, it means home, familiarity, comfort – people who know you well and accept you and people you know well and accept.
To me, the simple word, “Ecuador,” holds all of that, and more.
It has been the majestic folds of the Andes mountains – views that I drink in on the bus ride to different cities, or that I pause to soak in at the top of a mountain.
It has been the exquisite beauty of the Galapagos Islands.
It is mission work and prayer, – and was, even before I moved here.
But that word for me now embodies something deeper, richer, and difficult to describe.
My principal encouraged those of us leaving Ecuador to consider the legacy we are leaving behind, and the legacy our time here is leaving in us. So I’ve been pondering that, and it takes my breath away when I consider all that God has done in and through me during my time living in Ecuador.
Ecuador has changed me. I’ve done a lot of growing up, and I’ve learned a lot about the power of community.
While that might make it sound like I arrived here fresh out of college, I didn’t. It’s more that I’ll be “growing up” for the rest of my life, no matter how long I’ve been an adult, and that’s as it should be.
I’ve grown up as an educator: spread my wings, found my rhythm, branched out.
I now know so much more about my physical and emotional limits, and I’ve gotten a lot better at saying the word “no.”
I’ve learned how to navigate (mostly) the adulting aspects of day to day life in another country – going to the grocery store and the bank. Taking a taxi using Spanish. Hanging up artwork to make my apartment more homey. Finding new running routes and restaurants.
Speaking of running, I’ve run two of the hardest physical races of my life here, and I just finished up one the hardest metaphorical races I have yet endured: teaching 100% online for more than one whole school year.
I’ve grieved and healed a huge season of my before-Ecuador life here.
I have forged deep friendships with people here – friendships I hope to hold onto for years to come.
The Power of Community
But along with “growing up,” I’ve learned about the power and necessity of community.
Y’all, we really can’t do this life alone.
North Americans/Western culture tend to think that independence is the highest ideal. I like my independence; I do. But I need people, too.
That’s been highlighted for me when I needed a ride after oral surgery and a friend picked me up, or when a person more proficient at Spanish has helped me understand what someone was saying in a voice message, or when someone who has lived here longer helped me figure out how to get a bus ticket to ride to another city. Figuring out how things work in a different country is hard, and I don’t know how I would have done it without my communities.
I’ve learned that making friends takes a lot of putting yourself out there even when it’s tiring and you don’t feel like it. Saying yes to being uncomfortable and having awkward conversations, because eventually, it’ll get comfortable again. And this process is important to developing community.
These warm, generous-hearted people (both foreigners and Ecuadorians) kept drawing me out of my unconfident-in-my-Spanish-abilities/Ecua culture self and helped me make new friends.
So along with learning the importance of community, I have been changed by my communities.
I’ve learned so much from my students. I now know how to tailor my lessons so they’re more English language learner-friendly, and how to use examples that they can relate to as kids who live in Ecuador. (For example: talking about snow or snow days results in blank faces for most of them. They can’t relate. Talking about thunderstorms and staying inside because the UV radiation is too high is something they can connect with.)
My co-workers and administrators have made me a better educator. (Sure, maybe some of these changes could have happened in my passport country. But they didn’t. They happened here.) God paired me with the best co-teachers I could have asked for, and just the right administrators at just the right times. I’m more organized, I plan farther ahead, and I am more confident as a teacher because of them. I also now see how essential true teamwork is to effective education. I am a better educator when I work with other educators.
My charismatic, Pentecostal-like church has changed me. Oh, I have been uncomfortable and frustrated at times. But I’ve experienced God in ways I haven’t before. I’ve experienced worship in ways I haven’t before. And I’ve been challenged to grow and keep growing, even when that challenge has been annoying. 🙂
That grief and healing I mentioned earlier? God used the people in my church and school communities to bring me through that process which, at times, felt unending and unbearable. They helped me carry that load in ways I hadn’t experienced before, and gave me the courage to keep walking through the excruciating pain.
So, now, instead of being a distant place, with unfamiliar customs and people, when I say the word Ecuador, all of these things are attached and woven into the fabric of the word. The people and places I know and the experiences and relationships that have changed me flip through my mind like the scenes in a movie.
Then we come to today.
Today is my last Saturday as a resident of Ecuador.
I’m gonna pause and let that sink in.
Oh, I know. You probably don’t need a moment. But I do.
I’ve struggled for a few weeks, as I’ve let this blog post simmer, to put into words the ways that living internationally, living here, has indelibly changed me. I’ve attempted to do so here because it is important to me that I write it down.
Writing it down helps validate it and cement it in a way that just thinking about it doesn’t do.
But as I’ve said my final goodbyes this week, and I’ve tried to verbalize to the people I love so much what they have come to mean to me, I find my throat closing up, and my eyes burning, and my heart welling with emotion that can’t be put into words. I, who am such a lover of words, am finding that in this case, words are failing me.
It’s my last Saturday as a resident of Ecuador, and in a couple of days I’m heading back to my “host culture,” “passport country,” or whatever you want to call it. People have come up for different words to describe their country of origin after living in a different country. Because, despite the thoughts of those they left behind in their original country, that country is no longer their only definition of home and belonging.
The me who is returning to the U.S. is not the me who left.
Ecuador has changed me.
I’d be lying if I didn’t add that those very changes make me apprehensive about finding my place in the States again.
But even with this nervousness I feel about what’s coming next, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My life is richer, my perspective wider, my heart bigger because of my time here.
My friends here, though sad to see me go, have also told me how excited they are for whatever is coming next for me. They reminded me last week about what God pressed on my heart when I moved here: this season was to prepare me for the one coming after it.
I can’t wait to see how God will use my next home to shape me into a person who loves more like Him and lives more like Him.
See you later, mi querido Ecuador!
Por siempre estarás en mi corazón!